BMA Chicago Steve Earl
In today’s digital world, engagement isn’t an option. It’s a necessity. Steve Earl, managing director of Zeno Group’s European region, emphasized brands’ vulnerability in the age of the Internet during his presentation at the March BMA breakfast seminar. Earl encouraged attendees to protect their company from “brand vandals.” Earl defines brand vandals as “people who are mobilizing themselves and the Internet to wage war on organizations and willfully cause lasting reputational damage.”

With the advent of social media and review sites like TripAdvisor, brand vandals have endless opportunities to wreak havoc on an organization’s reputation. You never know where the next attack will come from. And you don’t have a choice — you have to engage, or allow your brand to be overtaken by brand vandalism. In Earl’s appropriately titled book BrandVandals, he discusses how a proactive approach can protect your brand. On Wednesday, Earl revealed strategies from his book that you can utilize to prepare your brand for battle.

Develop an Early Warning System
The growth of the Internet has outpaced our ability to keep our finger on the pulse of new risks. Most marketers say they monitor Twitter and mainstream media sources throughout the day for relevant news. Earl suggests you set aside time to take a deeper look into online conversations besides what’s trending on Twitter or what post got the most shares on Facebook. Staying up to date on what’s happening in forums and user groups will help immensely when identifying potential conflicts. These online conversation sites are often where rumors tend to start and the first signs of dissent begin to bubble. Monitoring places like Reddit and Quora can help you understand your potential brand vandals’ motivations, and you’re more likely to anticipate and avoid potential conflicts.

Don’t Forget to Add Employees to Your Brand Army
In his book, Earl defines advocates as the building blocks of a brand’s reputation. Don’t underestimate the power of employees as brand advocates. Oftentimes when looking for a brand advocate, we jump to expert, C-suite executives or well-known industry professionals with polished credentials. In reality, engagements from an employee working in the trenches will be perceived as more credible and authentic than any polished corporate statement a CMO could possibly make. Employees are the people whose voices are most heard and who have the power to influence the conversation.

Get Your Brand Battle-ready in 90 Days
Why 90 days? Because you never know when the next crisis will happen. If you start planning today, you’ll be better prepared for what may happen tomorrow.

Unfortunately, organizations can be slow to change, especially when an immediate threat isn’t looming on the horizon. The 90-day time period is a starting point for creating an agile brand that’s ready for the unexpected. Earl suggested that anyone starting to proactively prepare for a brand battle answer the following questions:

How bad can it get?

What can I do about it?

Honestly, it’s not pleasant to think about the worst thing that can happen to your company, but it’s necessary to prepare for potential crises. By answering those questions, you’re identifying the worst-case scenario that could happen to your brand and the actions you can take to prepare for that terrible scenario. Those answers will show you the most critical areas in need of change. Does your crisis plan include the release of a written statement? Probably. Is your organization slow to approve content? That will be a problem in today’s fast-paced media cycle when a response is needed ASAP. Try implementing a new process that allows for faster turnaround of company content.

By proactively monitoring conversations, identifying brand advocates and planning for the worst-case scenario, you’ll be prepared to get your communications right the first time when the crisis finally comes (which it will).

Don’t forget to sign up for the last luncheon of the 2014–2015 season, “Mapping Consumer Needs: A New Paradigm for Digital” with Rick Chavez, chief solutions officer of the Microsoft Advertising and Consumer Monetization Business Group.